SciTech briefs

Researchers find possible genetic links in psychiatry

A new study by Jordan Smoller, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has found similarities in genomes linking five very different psychiatric disorders: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, clinical depression, and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). The findings suggest that these disorders have roots in areas of the genome that code for major brain-signaling functions and may help to treat the disorders in the future.

The study was based on genetic data amassed from over 60,000 participants — both with and without illness — all around the world. The writers of the paper suggest that this could be the largest collaborative genetic study to date.

Source: The New York Times

Big meteorite hunters travel to Antarctica

A team of meteorite hunters traveling across the East Antarctic Plateau on snowmobiles in late January stumbled across quite a large find. A meteorite, found buried in the snow, weighed in at about 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of space rock. The meteorite turned out to be a chondrite, one of the most common types of meteors and the same type as the Russian meteor that landed in Siberia last month.

The expedition, which is a common exodus for scientists excited about meteorites, collected 425 meteorites — a total of 165 pounds in extraterrestrial rock. However, largest among these by far was the 40-pounder, making it the largest meteorite found in eastern Antarctica in the past 25 years.

Source: ScienceDaily

Prehistoric craters could have helped expedite life

A new study of an impact crater in Finland has suggested that meteors could have created ideal conditions for the creation of life in Earth’s early stages. While previous knowledge of the hydrothermal environments created by these craters accepted that they are beneficial to life forms, the new study suggests that these environments could have lasted for up to 1.6 million years, 10 times longer than previously thought.

The same report suggested that similar craters could have existed on Mars. Continuing research will help to determine whether thermal activity like this is unique to Finland’s crater, known as Lappajärvi, or if it is common to all similarly sized craters. These studies will hopefully shed more light on how life may have evolved on Earth, as well as give scientists a way to determine on which planets it may be likely for life to prosper.

Source: Science News

Biological molecules found in cosmic dust

Researchers using the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia found several basic biological component molecules in a gas cloud almost 25,000 light-years from Earth. Chemists believe that one chemical, cyanomethanimine, is one of the critical agents in the formation of the DNA nucleotide base adenine. The other key molecule discovered, called ethanamine, is thought to be essential in the creation of alanine, one of the 20 amino acids that make up all proteins.

The discoveries at this distance suggest that gas clouds like this could seed biological precursor particles throughout the galaxy. However, both molecules discovered require multistep biological processes, which are quite complicated, before they evolve to anything of biological significance.

Source: Reuters